Stronger Together, More Than Ever: How Texas Community Colleges Are Securing The Future
State Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently released a report outlining the huge impact Texas community colleges have on the state’s economy. Community colleges generate more than $820 million dollars in the South Texas region alone, and the rewards are much more than monetary, according to the report.
April is Community College Month, and South Texas College is celebrating its successes while continuing to build an even brighter future. Though current events may be tumultuous, community colleges have sustained students and economies through tough times before. Now is the moment to appreciate what community colleges do best — ensuring economic vitality for everyone.
Community colleges benefit their regions — and the state as a whole — by offering certificate programs and job training tailored to local workforce needs.
The Comptroller’s office recently published Texas' Community Colleges: Statewide Overview, highlighting the tremendous positive impact that two-year schools have on both students and the state.
The overview shows that community colleges generate more than $820 million dollars in the South Texas region alone, and the rewards are much more than monetary. In Fall 2017, a whopping 46 percent of the state’s higher education students enrolled in community colleges, more than any other type of higher learning institution. That’s about 700,000 community college students who found pathways to college degrees and skills to enter the workforce.
The high demand for community college education comes as no surprise to Keith Patridge, CEO and President of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation. He has been working with South Texas College since its inception to help create jobs and generate revenue for residents. He knows how crucial community colleges are for economic stability and growth.
From our standpoint, community colleges are our key to the success of not just McAllen and our area, but to the whole state of Texas and the whole country. South Texas College has been one of the most important economic developments that has occurred in our community.
“It’s really been the engine that has driven a lot of growth that we’ve had.”
According to Patridge, the key to developing the McAllen economy in the first place was encouraging companies to move into the area. Now, those companies are looking to their local community colleges to build their workforce through professional development opportunities.
For instance, South Texas College partnered with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation 15 years ago to develop training for customer care centers, which continues to attract new call centers and jobs to the area. Not only do students learn skills that are applicable across industries, but their employers also provide flexible working hours and tuition reimbursement to encourage their employees to continue their education.
“Everybody wins,” Patridge concludes about the partnership, which provides direct access to careers paying starting wages of up to $60,000 per year. “This has allowed literally thousands of our kids to not only develop the skills they need, but also to get an education without going into debt.”
It’s just one example of how Texas community colleges are making education affordable to all. In the 2017-18 school year alone the state’s community colleges ranked as the fourth-lowest for tuition and fees in the entire country, averaging just $2,209 a year, according to Exhibit 2 of the overview. In comparison, the overview lists the average cost of one year at a Texas four-year public school as $8,375. The savings are substantial. That’s why community college students graduate with about half the debt of a four-year student.
“Community colleges offer great value,” says Hegar. They can bridge the journey to a four-year degree, provide an entryway into the workforce, or both. Community colleges are an accessible and affordable way for students to experience the benefits of higher education.
South Texas College is also among the first community colleges in the nation to offer dual credit programs, through which students can earn up to an associate degree before they get their high school diploma. And, they can do it tuition-free, saving students a total of more than $200 million over the past 20-plus years.
Equally impressive is the fact that South Texas College is one of only a select few community colleges in the state to offer bachelor's degrees in Applied Technology and Applied Science! This makes the pathway to higher education even more accessible in the Rio Grande Valley.
“They now offer four bachelor’s degrees that are focused on both the technical skill sets to do the job, as well as management,” says Patridge. “It’s working really well.”
When it comes to education and career options, community colleges like STC can jump-start student success. According to the Overview, in 2018, workers in the South Texas area who took college classes or earned their degrees were paid an average of $4,000 more than those with a high school diploma. According to the Comptroller’s report on the South Texas Region, this boosted the cumulative wages in the area to nearly $820 million per year.
“That’s good for South Texas, and that’s good for Texas as a whole,” Hegar says.
One thing we know is that during this time, community colleges will continue to do what they do best: provide affordable education and worthwhile workforce training.
“During every economic downturn, community colleges have offered a low-cost option for students … to become more marketable and better prepared to take on new jobs once the economy recovers,” says Hegar.
The agility of community colleges like STC will continue to provide options for getting ahead of any changes that occur in the workforce and the economy. At a university, according to Patridge, program development can take as long as three or four years. Meanwhile, in response to industry needs, STC has created programs in less than six weeks — and in some instances, less than a week.
One of the benefits of community colleges is that they have more flexibility than traditional universities,” says Patridge. “They really have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in their respective communities.
South Texas College recently added another baccalaureate degree, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Amid the current health crisis of COVID-19, community colleges remain a steadfast source of resources, support, and accessible education, says Hegar.
“I see South Texas College and all of Texas’ community colleges as critical to ensuring that Texas will emerge from this challenge stronger and better prepared for the next cycle of economic growth,” says Hegar.